The Hand of Death

The Hand of Death

The first time I saw the Hand of Death, it was reaching for my sister. I pulled her toward me before it could take hold of her. We had taken our father’s fishing boat out into the middle of the lake. My sister had gone into the water for a swim while I remained in the boat. She was wearing her lifejacket, at my mother’s insistence, and had not waded far from the vessel when I saw the hand reaching out of the water toward her.

“Hannah!” I screamed, as I pointed at the hand.

“What?” she responded with fear. She turned and could obviously not see what I could. I reached out and grabbed the back of her lifejacket and pulled with all my might until she was safely in the boat.

“What?” she said again. “What was it, Tommy?”

I looked at the hand just as it was disappearing beneath the surface. “I–I saw…something,” I stammered. Though sure of what I saw, it just did not make sense and I could not bring myself to say it aloud. My sister recounted the incident to our mother later. “It must’ve been a big fish,” I explained. At the end of that same day, my father related some news to my mother.

“Mack Wilson died today,” he said.

My mother gasped. “What happened?”

“He was fishing on the west side of the lake and apparently had a heart attack,” my father explained.

I felt a chill at the coincidental occurence, but reasoned that the two events were surely unrelated; that is, until I saw the hand again. It was about a year later when we were visiting my grandmother at her home. She had been battling cancer and was sent home under hospice care. She seemed in good spirits as we visited with her at her bedside.

“Gary,” she said to my father, “Fill that bird feeder just yonder, will you?” She pointed out the window to a half-filled feeder hanging from a tree branch just a few yards from the house.

“Yes, mama,” he replied. “I’ll fill it on our way out.” She nodded her approval.

Not long after, my grandmother was starting to nod off, so we said our good-byes. As we were exiting the bedroom, I looked back at her. The hospice nurse was standing on one side of the bed, but suddenly there was a very dark shadow on the other side of the bed and a hand was reaching out toward my grandmother. I gasped as the bedroom door closed.

“Shh…” my mother said. “She needs her rest.”

It had been a year, but I distinctly recognized the hand. The figure to which it belonged was obscured by the dark shadow, but I clearly saw the hand itself. Moments later, the hospice nurse came rushing down the hallway, just as we reached the front door. She motioned for my father to follow her back to the bedroom. My grandmother had passed away.

There were other instances throughout the years when I saw the hand reaching toward myself. I was a teenager when some friends and I were canoeing on a river in southern Missouri. There were several rope swings hanging from trees that extended over the water and many cliffs perfect for diving. I stood at the edge of one particular cliff, about to jump, but as I looked down at the river, a familiar sight appeared. As the hand emerged from the water, my legs began to shake.

“Come on, Tom,” one of my friends shouted behind me.

I refused to jump, despite the jeering and taunting of the other boys. “This doesn’t look like a safe spot,” I said as my excuse.

“Well, if you’re too chicken,” Todd began, and then, before I could stop him, he ran and jumped from the edge as the other boys clapped and hollered. We looked down at the water to watch him emerge before the next boy jumped, but he did not emerge. We all scrambled down the hill to the water. We were all calling his name, taking turns swimming beneath the water to search. It was a slow-moving river, fortunately, so it wasn’t difficult to dive under without being swept away by the current.

“It’s not funny anymore,” Chad called out nervously.

“Look!” Garret said, pointing down river.

Todd was floating face-down, against a large branch protruding from the water. We all splashed around frantically and swam to him, but as we approached we could see that the back of his head was soaked with blood. We worked together to pull him to the bank. Chad tried performing CPR–at least, what he knew of it from watching TV. We all knew it was in vain. I knew it more certainly than anyone.

I carried guilt with me for years afterward and chided myself for not being more insistent about picking a different place to jump. Could I have made them heed my warnings? Would Death have chosen someone else anyway? I wasn’t sure of the rules, but I know that I should’ve been the one who died that day.

These incidents made me worry for my sister as well. I saved her from dying, though she was unaware of it at the time. Would Death keep coming for her? Not long after she graduated from high school, I finally worked up the nerve to confide in her what really happened on the lake when we were younger, which she could barely recall. She didn’t believe me about the hand at first, but then she saw the seriousness in my demeanor.

“Listen,” she said, “We all die. It’s one of the few certainties in this world. You can’t spend your life worrying about it. It’s going to happen to me just like it’ll happen to everyone else. And even if you can prevent it, you can’t be with me all the time.”

I wasn’t with her, in fact, when she was in college and was involved in a car accident that claimed her life. A car accident happens so quickly. If I had been there, would I have seen the hand in time? Instead of berating myself, I prided myself in the fact that I was directly responsible for many years she would not have experienced otherwise.

In recent years, I have seen the hand of Death more frequently and I know that one day I will not be on my guard. I cannot escape Death forever–none of us can. I know that one day I will be unsuspecting when it wraps its cold gray fingers around my throat.

Copyright © 2022 Brandon Ellrich

This short story was in response to a prompt at Keep It Alive. Please visit their page as well.

If you enjoyed this short story, you may also enjoy my short story A Picture is Worth a Thousand Warnings.

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Published by Brandon Ellrich

I live in Central Missouri and enjoy reading, writing, playing tennis, watching movies, and exploring creative outlets. I have a Bachelor of Science degree in psychology and I love to take my readers inside the minds of my characters.

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